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Manoa 14.1 (2002) 91-92

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from The Time Tree

Huu Thinh


I ask the earth: How does earth live with earth?
—We honor each other.

I ask water: How does water live with water?
—We fill each other up.

I ask the grass: How does grass live with grass?
—We weave into one another
creating horizons.

I ask man: How does man live with man?
I ask man:
How does man live with man?
I ask man:
How does man live with man?


Someone wishes you dead,
But your breasts become more like precious jade each day.

Someone wishes infirmity upon you,
But your hair is black
And heaven comes down to watch
You wade through the mud
Shaking out your shirt,
Returning wind to the clouds.

Someone wishes you orphaned,
But you sing among low-flying dragonflies.

"Black clouds have gone to seal heaven's gates—
Young leaves hoping for someone's face after rain." [End Page 91]

Winter Letter

The letter I wrote you had smeared ink,
But the bamboo walls are thin, and fog kept leaking through.
On this cold mountain, I cannot sleep at night.
By morning, a reed stalk can fade.

White snow on my thin blanket.
The stove glows red for lunch, but the mountain remains hazy.
Ink freezes inside my pen—
I hold it over the glowing coals and it melts into a letter.

Blocking the wind, a tree with purple roots trembles.
Corn seeds shrivel underground.
On days when my comrades are on assignment,
I miss them, but . . . there is an extra blanket.

The cold rooster crows lazily in a hoarse voice.
We beat on the cups, the bowls, to ease the strangeness.
The mountain hides hundreds of ores in its bosom.
I try, but can't find enough vegetables for a meal.

The rice often comes early, the letters late.
The radio is on all night to make the bunker seem less desolate.
So many years without seeing women,
I mistake the sound of horse hooves for your footsteps.

Gathering clouds often invite me to dream.
Very late, and you by a glowing light.
Wishing I had some scent of soapberry
So rocks would soften, the mountains grow warm.

Translations by George Evans and Nguyen Qui Duc


Huu Thinh was born in the hamlet of Phu Vinh in 1942. A combat veteran of the Vietnamese-American War, he is one of the most important poets of his generation and the recipient of many literary prizes in Viet Nam. The longtime editor-in-chief of the magazine Van Nghe, he lives in Ha Noi and is deputy general secretary of the Viet Nam Writers' Association. The poems in this issue are from The Time Tree (Curbstone Press, 2002), a bilingual edition of his poetry.



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pp. 91-92
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